This morning, a panel at the Sport Industry Breakfast Club (featuring Wouter Sleijffers, CEO of Fnatic; Chester King, CEO of International eGames Group; and Hannes Kranich of DraftKings) discussed the growth of the eSports industry and the opportunities it presents. The consensus was that the eSports market still has a huge amount of commercial potential. Whilst eSports is already well-established in continents such as Asia, in the UK and the rest of the Western world it is a relatively new phenomenon and its potential remains enormous.
Over the last year eSport has become the buzzword in certain corners of the sports industry. For the UK, US and much of Europe –particularly for many sports ‘traditionalists’ – it’s a strange new world. Meanwhile, in South Korea, eSport has been the national pastime for over a decade. Fans cram into stadia to watch tournaments, gamers are household names / sex symbols, and prize money pools in some competitions exceed $20 million. Recently, interest has started to grow in the US and Europe.
This morning’s panel emphasised factors such as the ease of the digital-native distribution of eSports (meaning virtually never-ending content creation), and growing audiences both at tournaments and on live streaming platforms such as Twitch, as key motivators for growth. Yet, they felt that eSports still has ‘lessons to learn’ from traditional sport.
Ignoring for a moment the technical (and often highly contentious) arguments as to what constitutes ‘sport’, it is clear that eSport shares many characteristics with traditional sport and (unsurprisingly, given the financial clout of the market and its demographics) it now presents similar commercial opportunities, and has succumbed to many of the same scandals and regulatory issues, as traditional sport. Doping scandals have arisen (think ‘traditional’ drug use by gamers but also ‘e-doping’ through use of cheat codes and hacks), and match fixing is a serious concern. However, eSport has not been regulated like a traditional sport and thus these issues arose in something of a regulatory vacuum. In response, governing bodies have started to emerge (including the British eSports Association in the UK, established in June 2016) and, in 2015, the Esports Integrity Coalition was established as a not-for-profit members’ association designed to enable key stakeholders to address these issues and challenges, through measures such as the introduction of a Code of Conduct. The emergence of regulatory bodies will no doubt change the eSports market over the coming years, the hope being that a more traditional regulatory structure will aid the industry’s growth.
Regulatory issues aside, what is clear is that the eSports market presents a wealth of commercial opportunities: for key stakeholders (the game publishers and event organisers – for example the Rio 2016 eGames), for traditional sports clubs (such as Premier League clubs, who have started signing eSports athletes), and for potential sponsors (with companies like Samsung and Red Bull already getting involved).